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Through Being Cool: How to Reach College Students

For the thousandth time, I found myself on Terri’s couch watching TV with her. During a commercial break, Terri was trying to break through to me about pursuing counseling. Senior year was taking its toll on me, between a major life change, some family hardships, and the acceptance of a full-time ministry job after graduation. It had become clear that I needed some deeper processing and some new tools to help me move forward successfully to the next stage of life.

Terri was my dorm mom at the time, and she had been ever present in my four years of university.

My college years were the era of Friends, Survivor, American Idol, and The Bachelor. Those were reality television’s humble beginnings. What those shows remind me of now are some of the pretty great times with our dorm mom Terri. Even though I didn’t love the shows, I’d be there just to hang around her. The counseling discussion was not a light conversation for reality TV watching, but it was necessary nonetheless.

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The thing I remember most from that crazy and difficult time is the support, love, and friendship Terri gave me.

She was older than me, and I respected her authority, but she always felt like my greatest of friends. I don’t remember her ever going over the top in planning events for us girls; mostly she just invited us into her life. That meant hours in her tiny dorm apartment making cheesecakes or watching TV and trips to Sonic or Dairy Queen or last-minute grocery shopping.

I think about Terri often now, as I am around the same age she was when I was in college. I find myself in disbelief that the college girls I invest in now are 10 years younger then me. I’m not their dorm mom, but God has brought them into my life for a reason, even if it is just to help them pass through the crazy challenges of college life.

As you can see, I mostly think about the relationship side of ministry, but that’s not to discount events. The Gathering Network, the church plant I am a part of in Kansas City, has a summer internship called the Leadership Training Project. This summer internship continues to be the biggest magnet we have for the next generation, and it focuses on discipleship.

But even after 20 years of a really great program like LTP, we are finding that we need to revamp and revise what it means to reach the next generation. The things that worked 20 years ago don’t work today. When I was an intern doing devotions in the morning, I didn’t even own a cell phone. Now, every morning we have to tell interns to turn their phones off just to help minimize the distractions.

I think we can all agree that culture has changed. It can feel like we are running the gauntlet just to even say our first hello, let alone build a relationship with them.

But in this often-difficult context, I honestly believe that the highest impact you can have is you opening up your own life.

So what do we do to move into the future of college ministry?